This American romantic drama is set in the Hollywood era of the late 1950s, and tells the story of the relationship between a young aspiring actress, and a young man who drives her and her mother around Hollywood in 1959. After 15 years, Warren Beatty returns to direct the film, which he has also written and co-produced. Starring in it as well, it is very much Warren Beatty’s movie.
Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich) is a chauffeur working for Howard Hughes (Warren Beatty) – “legionary billionaire” who is slipping into dementia – and he is instructed by the 79 yr. old Hughes to drive a young, devout Baptist actress, Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins) and her religious mother, Lucy (Annette Bening) anywhere they want to go. Hughes forbids any sexual relationship between any of his employees, and everyone understands that Hughes wants that rule respected, but they also know that the rule is not meant to apply to him.
Mother and daughter become impatient about the delay in Marla’s screen test, and they have trouble finding Hughes, who remains elusive, doing everything he can “never to be seen”. Marla develops a friendship with Frank who owns up to the fact that he hasn’t ever seen Hughes and Mara leads Frank to think he has a chance romantically.
At a critical point just before Marla’s screen test, Hughes is told by one of his employees, Noah Dietrich (Martin Sheen), that he is widely regarded as acting strangely, and that he should marry someone to provide a legal reason why he shouldn’t be sent to an institution for the mentally ill. Following Marla’s screen test, Hughes proposes to her, and she becomes pregnant with his child. As a consequence, Frank leaves Hughes’ employ, but later Marla reappears with Hughes’ son.
Warren Beatty starred in Arthur Penn’s Classic, “Bonnie and Clyde” (1967). In this film, he tackles the acting challenge of portraying a complex and difficult person (Hughes) in a most unusual way. He sidelines Hughes, and paints him totally erratically. Beatty as Director of the film keeps his main focus on the relationship between Frank and Marla, and the film captures the restless dynamism of the Hollywood 50’s era and the religious climate that characterised it at the time. Marla lives with other hopeful, ambitious starlets in one of Hughes’ many Hollywood homes. All the starlets are desperate to be a success regardless of any upbringing they might have, and they naively mix eager ambition with religious fervour.
This is not a movie about the myth of the infamous Howard Hughes, so much as a very distinctive depiction of an influential person in an era that has passed by. The film is nostalgic about Hollywood, but also heavily Beatty-centric and communicates intriguingly the power yielded by an aloof and lonely man. Structurally, the movie is loose in its plot line, and we are reminded all the time that moral rules don’t apply to most (but clearly not all) of the characters in the movie. The film carries a musical soundtrack that effectively combines pop, jazz, and classical music, and it partly sustains its energy by highlighting celebrity cameo performances by well known actors and actresses, like Alec Baldwin, Matthew Broderick, and Candice Bergen.
The movie comments satirically on an era Warren Beatty obviously knows a lot about, and it shows. For all that it shows, however, it emphasises eccentricity in an era of show-business when power politics dictated the rules of morally acceptable behaviour. The film fails to deliver any absorbing insights about character or personality, but it entertainingly depicts a fascinating period of Hollywood history, and it is an especially revealing statement from the film’s Director.
Review by the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting | Uploaded by: Richard M Healey